Think Twice about Teacher Reductions in Force

Submitted on May 25, 2021 by:
Matt Finster

For school districts that may need to reduce spending and potentially lay off employees, “Reducing District Budgets Responsibly” (brown.edu) argues for delaying educator pay raises or furloughing non-working staff to reduce layoffs.

This recommendation is based on research that demonstrates the large-scale reductions in force (RIFs) have negative consequences on student learning beyond just losing the individual teacher and even when teachers who received a potential layoff notice actually keep their job. Large-scale RIFs also create surplus churn that is more disruptive than necessary.

In addition to these points, there are monetary costs of teacher turnover stemming from separation, and eventually recruitment, hiring, orientation and training, performance productivity, and preparation of new teachers. While there are only immediate fiscal implications of the activities associated with separation, the costs of the activities for other budget categories would be incurred as the district eventually rehires teachers for RIFed positions. The costs of turnover are highly variable, but estimates range from roughly $10,000 to $20,000 depending on the components included in the costs (e.g., loss of productivity) and other model assumptions. While drastic reductions in funding may force school districts to conduct a RIF, the consequences of RIFs on student learning and future costs emphasize the need to be as exact as possible. 

For school districts that engage in a RIF, they should track the distribution of RIF notices to assess any potential disproportionate consequences. Depending on the primary criterion used for RIF (School districts typically use a seniority-driven system, but some have argued about the benefits of effectiveness-based layoff policies), there may be a disproportionate impact on high-poverty and minority schools, but that is not always the case.

Ultimately, it depends on which teachers (in terms of seniority and/or effectiveness) are teaching in which schools. For more information, contact the Region 5 Comprehensive Center.